Ask any Vanderbilt player about what linebacker Chris Marve is like on the field and you will get the same descriptions: “intimidating, hard-hitting, ferocious, unblockable and relentless.” They are the types of words any linebacker would want to be described with, and no one fits the description better than Marve.
Since arriving on campus, the redshirt sophomore has been the type of player upperclassmen would talk glowingly about amongst themselves. Never talking loudly enough to inflate his ego or show signs of intimidation, but having an understanding that when given the chance, Marve would be a difference maker on the field.
The prototype for the linebacker position is a player who is fast, athletic, instinctive, strong, intelligent, intimidating and hits like a Mack truck. Marve fits the description like a glove, and has even added another category: ball hawk.
In his time at Vanderbilt, Marve has developed a knack for forcing turnovers. In 2008, Marve led the SEC with four forced fumbles. No fumble was more important than the one he forced on the 1-yard line at Ole Miss, which preserved a Vanderbilt win. This season has been no different for Marve, who is again among the league leaders in forced fumbles.
“The biggest thing is my mindset,” Marve said. “Defensively, I just feel like we have to make plays, and when I get the opportunity, I just try to make it. Luckily sometimes I make it.”
In high school Marve didn’t have the same aptitude for creating turnovers. His ability to pick up the skill at a higher level speaks to how much he has continued to grow as a player.
“I think he has probably added that to his game because it seems like he is able to force a turnover in not just your every down situation,” said Major Wright, who coached Marve at White Station High School in Memphis. “He finds a way to do it in some critical situations, as well, so in the back of his mind, he’s trying to come up with ways to help the team get the ball back.”
Just as Marve has developed a knack for taking the football away, he also has created a reputation for being one of the hardest hitters in the league. The combination not only has ball carriers in the SEC focusing more intently on carrying the ball with two hands, but also has resulted in fewer players willing to work the middle of the field where Marve roams.
“As a defensive player, you want to be known as a hard hitter and a tenacious player,” Marve said. “You want to have that type of reputation to instill fear into people that go against you. You want to intimidate.”
The intimidation Marve brings to opponents is something his teammates have known since he arrived at Vanderbilt.
“When you run across the middle, you have to have your eyes on him because he will hit you,” senior wide receiver Alex Washington said. “He’s very intimidating, very aggressive and likes to hit. I don’t go heads up with him on the field, but when I run across the middle doing a drag route, he’ll push me five or six yards, so I can tell how big of a hitter he is.”
Marve makes his presence known even more on the field by the way he relentlessly pursues the ball. His ability to get to the ball carrier is something even his fellow linebackers hear offensive players talk about.
“The biggest thing people talk about is that no one likes to block him because he is extremely hard to block,” junior linebacker John Stokes said. “If he’s coming in to steal the football, he’s coming through. It doesn’t matter if you are a 300-pound offensive lineman. Nobody wants to be matched up with him on the block.”
Along with teammates Patrick Benoist, Brent Trice and Stokes, Marve is continuing Vanderbilt’s tradition of developing outstanding linebackers. Many could argue Vanderbilt has produced better players at linebacker than any other position. Before Bobby Johnson’s tenure began in 2002, Vanderbilt had a slew of linebacker greats, including Chris Gaines, Shelton Quarles, Jamie Duncan, Jamie Winborn and Matt Stewart.
Vanderbilt had a strong core of linebackers in the past, and Johnson, along with linebackers coach Warren Belin, has kept Vanderbilt’s reputation for producing good linebackers intact.
Since Johnson and Belin arrived, the two have developed many successful linebackers who earned All-SEC accolades and three players (Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs) who currently play in the NFL.
“Coach Warren Belin does a great job with the linebackers. They rarely have alignment mistakes, and that gives them a chance to be really successful,” Johnson said. “It goes all the way back to Hunter Hillenmeyer in Warren Belin’s first year, who went from ordinary linebacker to the leading tackler in the conference. Then it was Moses Osemwegie, Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs. You can look at them and see how successful they are. The system helps a lot, but we think those guys are tailor-made for the system.”
Vanderbilt has produced many outstanding players at linebacker, and many believe Marve has a chance to join those names. Listed at 6’0”, 228 pounds, Marve plays much bigger than his physical size.
Marve didn’t begin playing the sport until he was 13, but once in high school at White Station, it didn’t take long for the coaching staff to notice something about Marve. He wasn’t a player who just relied on his athletic ability, he put the time in to be a better player.
“He is a very talented football player with a rare football intelligence,” said Wright, who now coaches at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. “He has a tremendous savvy for the game and a dedication to studying the game. He made himself into an exceptional high school player by the time he put in studying it.”
Marve’s work ethic is something his teammates at Vanderbilt have noticed, as well. Stokes, who also is a Memphis native, got a taste of Marve’s work ethic before the two even stepped onto campus.
“After I was done playing (high school) basketball, we got our freshman workout from Vanderbilt and we started working out together at my high school every day,” Stokes said. “I don’t think I had ever worked that hard in the offseason or was pushed like he pushed me.”
When Marve arrived at Vanderbilt as a true freshman in 2007, he not only had the coaching staff to learn from, but he also learned from two of the team’s best linebackers in recent years in Buggs and Goff, who were seniors at the time.
“I definitely learned a lot from those guys,” Marve said. “When I came here, Goff and Buggs took me under their wing. I learned from both of them, Buggs especially. They tried to help me any time they could. Any question I had, they were ready to answer.”
With a redshirt season under his belt, Marve exploded onto the scene in 2008, earning Freshman All-America honors by Rivals.com and First Team Freshman All-SEC honors by the coaches.
His play immediately earned him respect on the field, but it was his on-field performance combined with how he carried himself off the field that earned him even more respect in the locker room.
Earning the respect of his teammates is nothing new to Marve. When he was in high school he was a two-year team captain, and as a senior he helped White Station to a 12-2 record and an appearance in the 5A state semifinals.
“Chris is the only junior team captain I’ve ever had,” Wright said, “and I select the team captains. There was tremendous respect not only from the players, but from the coaches toward him.”
Marve’s focus on carrying himself in a positive manner on and off the field begins with how he represents himself to his family. The oldest of eight siblings, Marve understands the importance of being a positive role model to his younger siblings that range in age from 18 to seven.
For Marve, an important aspect of setting a good example is doing so in the classroom, where he is a double major in human and organizational development and sociology.
“My mom and dad always stressed the importance of education way before I started playing football,” Marve said. “Education always came first when I was growing up.”
Education is so important to Marve that he already has his sights set on earning a master’s degree, which he plans on working on during his redshirt senior year.
“I know I have to set the standard and be a good role model, and give my brothers and sisters someone positive to look up to,” Marve said. “I try to set a good example, and hopefully they follow suit because it is easier to do wrong than do right.”